What Are the 5 Main Environmental Factors That Affect Health?

Most people concentrate on diet and exercise when improving their health. However, the environment has just as much an impact on your well-being. Consider the importance of clean air and water — polluting these vital resources puts you at higher risk for numerous diseases and complications.

Can you safeguard your health from illnesses caused by the environment? You have to know the sources first.

5 Environmental Factors That Affect Health

You may notice most environmental health considerations are linked. Here are five of the primary factors that affect health. 

1. Climate Change

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The world needs to do more to curb climate change. Coastal communities will be the first to tell you the consequences are no longer a distant threat. Rising sea levels, prolonged droughts and intensifying hurricane seasons have wreaked havoc on vulnerable populations. 


Extreme weather events cause waterborne illnesses, widespread structural damage, and disrupted food and health systems. Likewise, temperature fluctuations cause bacteria and viruses to spread more rapidly.


In 2023, an extended monsoon season and warmer weather created a breeding ground for Aedes mosquitoes, leading to Bangladesh’s worst dengue outbreak. By November, 291,832 people were infected, with the death toll reaching 1,476 — five times higher than in 2022 and the first year dengue appeared in all 64 districts. Experts say the Aedes mosquito is adapting to climate change, where it thrives and reproduces in stagnant water. 


Overall, 3.6 billion people live in areas prone to climate change events, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority citizens. Mortality rates in these communities from extreme weather were 15 times higher in the last decade than in less susceptible regions.

2. Air Quality

You’ve decided to meditate as part of your new mind-body health regimen—now imagine getting situated in a quiet spot surrounded by nature. You close your eyes, take a deep breath and are struck by foul industrial odors. 


Air pollution is enough to ruin anyone’s mindfulness practice—and their physical health. The environmental and medical communities have linked poor air quality from fossil fuels to cardiovascular disease, lung infections, cancer and other chronic conditions. 


In fact, 8.34 people die annually from exposure to fine particulate and ozone air pollution. Of course, being predisposed to metabolic disorders, heart disease and pulmonary diseases worsens your risk of mortality. Research indicates society can prevent most of these deaths by eliminating fossil fuels. 

However, the transition to renewables has only slowly declined global reliance on fossil fuels.

3. Water Quality

Globally, 2.2 billion people lacked access to safe water in 2022. Nearly 296 million attained water from impaired systems, while 115 million still collected drinking water from lakes, rivers and surface water. Naturally, this puts them at risk of severe waterborne illness. 


In recent years, many have recognized water as one of the most critical environmental factors that affect health — particularly with rising awareness of synthetic per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).


Scientists have discovered PFAS contamination in 64 rivers throughout Japan, while Jordanian women’s breast milk contained concentrations 60 times higher than baseline drinking water health advisories. Experts have linked high PFAS exposure to various cancers, endocrine disorders and reduced immune response.


An influx of manufacturing and industrial growth has given rise to widespread PFAS contamination throughout Southeast Asia. Although the United States and Europe have placed restrictions on the nearly 9,000 registered PFAS chemicals, they continue circulating the globe while posing a risk to human health.

4. Food Security

Feeding a growing population has become more challenging over the decades. Today, environmental disasters and human-induced damage pose a significant risk to the agricultural sector. 


Worldwide, extreme temperatures and drought cause crop shortages. Soil contamination also makes it more difficult for maize, wheat and other essential crops to grow. Experts predict crop yield losses of 7%-23% under severe climate change scenarios without adaptation. While irrigation and nutrient management are viable strategies to mitigate effects, they require significant investments. 


Even livestock systems — accounting for 15% of per capita calories and 31% of the world’s protein supply — will suffer. This will greatly impact meat, egg and dairy production.

5. Built Environment

Sustainable communities play a critical role in public health. Besides providing access to health services, the built environment promotes resilience against climate change and creates green spaces for its citizens.


People interact with physical structures and landscapes daily—from transportation systems to office buildings and residences—with significant effects on their health. 


Your neighborhood determines the level of physical activity you get, such as parks where you can walk, jog, bike and enjoy outdoor play. Escaping from city life and surrounding yourself in nature also benefits your mental health. 


The more sustainable cities are, the better the outcomes for the population’s well-being. For instance, a coastal community prepares for climate change impacts, preventing worst-case flood damage scenarios. Globally, developers have begun transitioning older buildings to LEED-certified spaces, improving indoor air quality for workers and reducing emissions.


Most importantly, urban planners are challenged to consider the living environment when building cities, whether progressing water treatment centers, expanding health services or promoting electric vehicles.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

While these five environmental factors affect health the most, there are other considerations for your well-being. Solid waste, deforestation, chemical pollution and natural resource depletion all demand careful attention. 


Many of these factors occur on a global scale and are outside of your control. Fortunately, there are ways to protect your health from adverse outcomes, such as doing the following:

  • Wear a mask outdoors on days with extremely high air pollution.
  • Stay hydrated and wear breathable clothing during heat waves.
  • Change your air filters to improve indoor air quality.
  • Choose foods wisely and consider a plant-based diet.
  • Lessen your dependence on single-use plastic products and opt for reusable alternatives.
  • Listen for boil advisories to filter water contaminants before using tap water sources.
  • Use cleaning products without harmful chemical ingredients.


The global population must collectively limit its contribution to environmental harm. For instance, people should opt for public transportation, walk, or cycle whenever possible. Supporting policies for cleaner air and water will also ensure protection for everyone.


Growing more aware of regional risks is especially crucial since different countries are affected by varying impacts. It’s necessary for you to take precautions and have an emergency plan in place for the unexpected. Your actions may seem small, but they add up and make a difference when everyone is involved.  

Protect Yourself by Protecting Your Planet

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There are many ways to protect yourself from the main environmental factors that affect health. Likewise, advocating to uphold environmental safety standards ensures the world gets a handle on climate change and the growing threats.


No matter where you live, taking responsibility for the planet’s health and reducing your carbon footprint is important. If you’re considering adopting sustainable habits, joining the #Refillution movement and avoiding single-use plastic water bottles is an excellent place to start.

Beth Rush

Beth Rush is the nutrition editor at Body+Mind, a health and wellness brand. She covers topics like mindful eating, sustainable agriculture, and plant-based recipes. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth!